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Leaked MOI memos reveal intentions to issue gag orders on Journalists Syndicate raid, Regeni’s murder

Amid its feud with the Journalists Syndicate, the Interior Ministry accidentally revealed its media strategies regarding several pressing issues, including the death of Italian Student Giulio Regeni and individual violations committed by security forces.

The Ministry of Interior’s media office mistakenly sent its media plan on Monday to a list of journalists. The document, which appeared to contain a number of internal memos, included proposals on how to deal with the ministry’s current crisis with journalists, a request for a gag order on the case of Regeni’s murder, and other notes on the ministry’s strategy to combat media coverage of police violations and proposed solutions to raise the morale of police officers in Sinai.

Public Prosecutor Nabil Sadek issued a gag order on Tuesday prohibiting coverage of the security raid on the Journalists Syndicate on Sunday and the arrest of journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud al-Sakka.

The gag order was issued hours after a number of journalists received the 144-page document from the ministry’s public relations office, which included the ministry’s plan to counter the backlash it currently faces. 

One memo in the document proposed that the ministry asserts that the syndicate’s actions regarding journalists Badr and Sakka constitute a crime of harboring fugitives, since both journalists have arrest warrants issued against them but were participating in the sit-in inside the syndicate.

The ministry also accused Journalists Syndicate head Yehia Qallash, along with syndicate board members Khaled al-Balshy and Hanan Fekry, and former board member Mohamed Abdel Koddous, of “intentional escalation” of the crisis with the aim of “making electoral gains.”

The memo also noted that the ministry cannot back down from its position “because to retreat would mean a mistake had been made, and if there was one, who would be responsible and who would be held accountable?”

The leaked memo included suggestions to coordinate with popular television shows to host former generals, who would explain and support the ministry’s position. The memo specifies that the generals should be chosen carefully, given the severity of current media backlash against the ministry.

The leaked document raised concerns regarding the ministry’s role in issuing judicial gag orders, with one page revealing a proposal by the ministry to “coordinate with the public prosecutor” to issue a gag order on the coverage of Regeni’s murder until investigations are completed.

Another memo in the document states that the request for a gag order is in response to “intentions by some media platforms to escalate [the campaign against the ministry] during the coming period and to intentionally implicate the ministry in the incident.” 

A number of media reports have held security forces responsible for Regeni’s death. Reuters published a report quoting six different security forces stating that Regeni was in security custody before his severely tortured body was found in early February on the outskirts of Cairo.

The document also includes a request to add 10 ministry employees to the ministry’s media center in order to “facilitate the monitoring of all online news websites in the next 24 hours.” The note explained that the rate of publishing on media websites surpasses that of print newspapers and that a separate department is needed to follow their coverage closely.

One memo sent by the ministry’s deputy for media and public relations, Abu Bakr Abdel Karim, to the deputy for legal affairs concerns “the implementation of the recommendations to counter ‘attempts to abuse individual acts by policemen’.” In recent months, the Interior Ministry has described police violations, including those in which policemen have killed citizens in clashes, as “individual acts.”

The stated recommendations in the memo include “a daily announcement of the ministry’s efforts through a daily newsletter … increasing awareness of all efforts of a humanitarian nature made by all ministry departments.”

 

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Mohamed Hamama